Useful Midgets

Scientists have discovered a new bacterium which improves the survival rate of bee larvae.

Jun 02, 2015
The newly discovered bacterium supports developing bee larvae, thus improving their chances of survival

Scientists of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) of the Carl Hayden Bee Research Center have come across an unsuspecting roommate in the beehive. Molecular biologist Vanessa Corby-Harris and microbial ecologist Kirk E. Anderson named the newly discovered bacterium Parasaccharibaster apium. The experts found vast numbers of the bacterium in royal jelly – a key nutrient for bee larvae. The bacterium was also found in honey and the bees’ bodies.

It is widely known that many useful bacteria live within a honey bee population. Adult bees benefit most from their presence: The microorganisms help them cope with stress factors such as diseases and malnutrition. Contrary to those bacteria, P. apium seems to exclusively support bee larvae.

The two scientists noticed the bacterium improved survival chances of larvae by about 20 percent in laboratory experiments. They cannot yet explain exactly how P. apium influences the larvae’s organism. “It could involve the production of organic acids and lowering pH, which might have an antiseptic effect”, explains Corby-Harris, “or its presence might induce an immune response that could later help against larval pathogens.”

The scientists will continue studying the useful effects bacteria can have on a bee hive – perhaps microorganisms could serve as an effective beekeeping tool, sometime in the near future.

Read more about the research of the ARS

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